KIPLING’S PLAY-BY-PLAY OF AN ICE HOCKEY GAME
“IT WAS GLORIOUS.
PLAIN, STRAIGHT, HAMMER & TONGS,
BELL FOR LEATHER – HOCKEY….”
RUDYARD KIPLING. English writer.
Autograph Letter Signed, six and one-half pages, octavo, Engelberg, [Switzerland], June 14, 1911. On imprinted stationery of the Hotels Cattani, to [C. H. S.] Taylor.
“Our honour has been saved! I sit down to give you a more or less full account of this years match against our hockey-playing little friends from Zurich. It was played at 11 a.m. this morning: on the old curling rink, the ground marked off with g-in boards. (I don’t think that this arrangement makes for safety, by the way.) The ice was in perfect shape-hard as grey steel but the weather was a raw frost-fog with rime [hoarfrost] an inch deep on all the trees. But, at any rate, [Iris] made the light uniform and did away with all dazzle and glare. For some reason or other the match exuded no end of interest. I expect the people who saw it last year had told the newcomers what the 1910 game was like and every one felt that the honor of Engelberg was involved.
“Burr captained Zurich same as last year and he brought with him Arnman (spelling not guaranted) goal / Fiske-a long lathy young American-a Harvard boy training to be a chemist, reported to possess an analytic mind who certainly understood combinations & permutations / Tait-a young Englishman small & neat / Taylor-ditto-a charming chap and a most finished player / Sergeant De Coulant-a Frenchman / We turned out with Ames (goal) fairhaired chap with good eyes. / Hood: sad and severe: a loser of the game. Aitkin: / Bedford (in a yellow jersey and a yard man. / Hardinge-an American (Harvard) I think. / Bonner. / and the ever redoubtable Hingston with 1 * sq inches of pink stickling-plaster above one eye which decoration he had picked up yesterday playing Bellevue v. Cattani’s (and they wiped the rink with us)
“There was no coyness exhibited on either side. Unluckily for us, just as Hood was pulling on his skates one of ’em broke (This proves that a man ought always to have two pair skates and boots ready) Hood dashed off to Beerli’s using I suppose gentle words; found no one in there at first, was at last told that the thing couldn’t be repaired in less than a couple of hours so, being an American got down and tinkered the thing to right himself. This put him out of the game for the first half and his place was taken by a substitute-one Strekler I believe. Between you and me I think that if we had had Hood from the first we’d have won clean out as I am dead sure we’d have won if you’d been here-and won handsomely.
“I didn’t see the beginning of the game. When I came on the ground De Coulant the Frenchman had made one goal for Zurich; Burr had made two and Hardinge for us had made one: So the score was three to one and I rather groaned; expecting we’d catch it worse than last years (Oh I forgot to say that Waddy, with a large nickel-plated whistle between his teeth and a pink rosette on his manly bosom was referee. He swears he didn’t know much about the rules they were playing under (I think they called ’em Donadion for a change, this time) but there were surprisingly few cases of offside and there was never any sort of dissent. I don’t think I’d like to be umpire at a hockey match. You ought to have seen old W. wheeling and pirouetting outside the screen or gracefully hopping over the boards as a bunch of inter-twined players, sticks & skates came slithering at him.)
“The Key of the Z[urich] position was first-class combination work between Burr and the analytical chemist Fiske. You would have rejoiced to have seen their play. As far as I could make out-but I don’t pretend to know the game-our men weren’t as quick at passing and working together-anyhow at first though Hingston as usual, was a marvel. Some of his lifting yesterday at the Bellevue match was worth walking to Engelberg to see. Well, when the whistle went at half time at 3 to 1, for Zurich, as I tell you, I’d rather resigned myself to defeat. Waddy gave me a bundle of silver hockey sticks to present to the winners and I felt Zurich did get em.
“Second half / Hardinge-the other American-had much over one goal. He played for all he was worth but the boards got him once or twice (seems to me darn dangerous) when play began again. Then Burr made his fourth goal. Zurich’s backing up, up to his point, was perfect, and I would have sold our chances for 7.50 fr[ancs]. But, as so often happens, our chaps got together-I guess Hingston had told ’em a few things-and we began to press Zurich. Still, Fiske and Burr played together beautifully-the little man Tait raged around like a flame and the others in their degree backed up. Hood had come into the game at half time but his skates didn’t seem easy and he dropped about a lot-once slam across the boards so that I thought he’d have the graining of im neatly stamped on his alnes, if that’s the right word. But I observed that Zurich was falling about a little more than we were and by the look of the goal-keepers legs (you know that goal-keepers express caution, like grass-hoppers, with their hind legs). There seemed to be some uneasiness on the enemy’s side. Then the screams got tighter, the flat hockey-skates rasped and ripped, Hingston smashed a stick, swooped to the side & got a fresh one as quick as I can write it, the men began to grunt and even genteel Engelberg, on whom good hockey is wasted, faintly applauded as we worked Z[urich] back & back. I was moderately agitated at this point and couldn’t give a very collected account of anything except that stood like a battleship and Bedford (in a yellow jersey) like a cruiser rolled back and forth and Bedford, I think got a goal. Then Hardinge got another (3 to 4) and only a few minutes to play. Then Hingston got in-so far as I could see-but it might have been Hardinge-with a Fourth; and there we were 4 all-and three goals made in the last five minutes of play! It was glorious. Plain, straight, hammer & tongs, bell for leather-hockey and all men played clean out to their last ounce. After a pause for rest and consultation they decided to play another ten minutes. This made me unhappy because one knew that it all depended on condition. There wasn’t a 5 c[ent] stamp to choose between either team in point of play now that the Burr-Fiske combine had been dropped onto; and I only hoped that the late dinner given to Zurich the night before would bear good solid fruit. So they went at it again livelier than before just after less than 3 minutes play. Tait and Burr running side by side seemed to turn inwards towards each other. Result-one hefty bump on Taits tight forehead and a cut above Burr’s left eyebrow which bled copious. I think he had had his hands smashed up a bit too for they were also bloody. Game stopped for 2 min[utes] while some one tied Burr up in a handkerchief. I couldn’t rejoice over so good a man being wounded: tho’ I felt it wouldn’t do us any harm (By the way there were two stitches underneath Hingston’s innocent looking pink sticking-plaster)
“I had never realized that men could cut each others heads about with their own skulls. There had been heaps of two-and three man falls where one might have expected bloodshed but Burrs was the only gore than flowed. It seemed to make him livelier if anything and the last 7 minutes was a sort of tumultuous Catherine wheel of a game. No one had time even to get “off side.” Waddy flickered about like a withered leaf in a cyclone-men fell by ones and twos-glad of the endout’s rest even if they had to take it sliding. At the very least we had Zurich fairly penned. Hingston tried a shot which all but got the goal; I saw one despairing wave of his stick wave eloquent then a multitude of ‘damns’ and then the whistle blew. Mafiest! Finish. 4 all. Any more play would have been rank cruelty to animals and Waddy told me to give the silver hockey sticks to the visiting team, which I done. Burr was the colour of mottled soap, with caked blood on his face and the rest were about equally beautiful in their different styles. I didn’t waste their time with words. What I ought to have said was that the hockey-sticks were not signs of victory but souvenirs of the bloody war. The losers cheered each other and as I went through the skate room I head Hingston confiding to Waddy his life long regret, rage and disgust over his lost shot. I gathered that poor H[ingston] could never be happy again. He said:- ‘If I had only stopped to think for one fifth of a second I ought to have got the goal. But I missed by yards!’ I ain’t Hingston but as a mere matter of curiosity, I should like to know where in hell or hockey that 1/5 of a second could have come from. There wasn’t time to think an eyelash when Hingston hit: and he only missed by inches.
“Half an hour later I found em all clothed & in their right minds, putting away Bade beer in the bay window of the Billiard room and fighting their battles afresh. All agreed that there hadn’t ever been a better game and I only wish, as indeed we all wished, that you had been there. Then we should have got one if not two extras: Perhaps next year the matter can be arranged. Meantime our little school boy friends from Zurich have conceived a great respect for us. In haste for the post….”
Rudyard Kipling writes from Engelberg, where he enjoyed the mountains and winter sports. Lord Birkenhead’s long-suppressed biography of Rudyard Kipling explains that “An annual absence from England was necessary for Kipling, and he now chanced upon Engelberg in Switzerland, which he loved so much that he returned to it every year from 1908 to the outbreak of war. He found exhilaration in the mountains and the snow, the wind lipping over a pass, and the astonishing splendor of the sun. He loved the cold lakes and the slow tramway journey up the gorge, the icicles glittering from the rock-face and the racing mountain torrents that fed the sawmills. He loved the air, ‘tasting like diamonds and ether mixed’, and the little engine with the rack and pinion that hauled him up the last thousand feet into Engelberg, and the bright blazing blue sunshine, expiring into purple twilight.”
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